In August, 2001, Juan Velazquez moved in with
Virginia Venegas and her two young children, 3-year old Isabella and 1
1/2-year old Liana.
On September 26, 2001, Venegas called 9-1-1,
reporting that Liana was missing. The Phoenix Police Department
responded and a massive search for Liana began.
Venegas and Velazquez told the police that Velazquez
had gone to a local laundry mat earlier, and had left the arcadia door
open. Ms. Venegas was busy in the kitchen and assumed Liana had gone
with Velazquez. When Velazquez called home from the laundry mat, they
realized Liana was missing.
While the police were searching for Liana, her father
arrived. He observed bruising on Isabella's head and took her to a
nearby hospital. Among other injuries, Isabella had a skull fracture,
swollen bruises on her face, and bruising on her chest and back.
Phoenix Police detectives interviewed Velazquez and
arrested him the next day, September 27, 2001. He admitted tripping
Liana several times, causing her to hit her head and finally lose
He further admitted holding his hand over Liana's
mouth to keep her quiet, knowing that she could not breathe, and to
squeezing her around the rib cage. He also admitted that he had been
abusing both for approximately a month.
On September 28, 2001, divers found Liana's body in a
canal, weighted down by a cement block which Velazquez had tied to her
with wire. She had been killed by a blow to the head.
Presiding Judge: Hon. Jeffrey S. Cates
Prosecutor: Jeannette Gallagher and Jeffrey Zick
Defense Counsel: Robert L. Storrs & Joey Hamby
Start of Trial: July 28, 2004
Verdict: August 31, 2004
Sentencing: October 08, 2004
Especially heinous, cruel or depraved
Age of victim (under 15)
Prior serious offense
[Direct Appeal pending before the Arizona Supreme Court]
State v. (Juan)
Velazquez, 216 Ariz. 300, 166 P.3d 91 (2007)
DEATH PENALTY UPHELD)
Velazquez was convicted in Maricopa County Superior Court of three
counts of child abuse and one count of first degree murder for the death
of a 20-month old child, and four counts of child abuse for injuries
inflicted on a three year old child. Both children were daughters of his
girlfriend, with whom he had been living. This is Velazquez’s direct
appeal of the death sentence.
(F)(2) (PRIOR CONVICTION OF
SERIOUS OFFENSE) – UPHELD
Velazquez’s conviction of child abuse of the three year old met
the requirements of the version of the F(2) aggravator in effect in
2001 when he committed the murder. This aggravator could not be
based on convictions for serious offenses committed
contemporaneously with the capital murder. However, it could be
based on convictions for serious offenses that were committed
separately from the murder, even if the murder serious offense
convictions resulted from the same trial. This was the situation
here. The child abuse of the other daughter did not arise from the
same set of events as the murder.
(F)(6) (ESPECIALLY HEINOUS,
CRUEL OR DEPRAVED) – UPHELD
Especially Cruel –
The Court found that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt
that the child experienced intense physical pain as she was
suffocated, squeezed, tripped, and left to die. She was
conscious when she sustained the skull fracture that caused her
(F)(9) (AGE OF VICTIM) –
Velazquez was 23 years old at the time of the crime, and the
victim was 20 months old.
The Court independently found the following mitigating circumstances:
Age (G)(5): afforded
little weight given Velazquez’s criminal history, average
intelligence, maturity level, and the fact that he committed the
murder on his own
personality disorder: considered only as a non-statutory
mitigator because personality disorders usually are not sufficient
to satisfy the (G)(1) mitigator
Difficult childhood, including
physical and emotional abuse
Abuse of drugs and alcohol
Impact of execution on his
Although the Court found this
mitigation considerable, it decided that on balance the evidence was not
sufficiently substantial to warrant a sentence less than death given the
circumstances of the crime.
JUDGMENT: Death sentence